Indulgences are an important and neglected part of the life of the Church. Pope Paul VI's Indulgentiarum Doctrina is the best exposition of the theology and practice of indulgences that I have read. I don't necessarily agree with all the practical reforms (but, of course, I observe them in obedience to the Church) but Pope Paul VI added an important magisterial teaching to that of the Council of Trent which had to focus on eradicating abuses. For example, Pope Paul explains the benefit of indulgences for us:
- They teach us how sad and bitter it is to have abandoned the Lord God by sin (cf. Jer 2.19)
- They teach us how closely we are united to each other in Christ
- And therefore they encourage charity in us, especially when we apply indulgences to those who have died.
If you are not sure about indulgences, I do recommend reading the text of Indulgentiarum Doctrina.
The indulgence for the Year of Faith can be gained by attending three sermons during a Mission or at least three lessons on the Acts of the Council or the articles of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This was music to my ears since I have in fact planned to give three talks on Vatican II this autumn, and three talks on the Catechism in the spring. (In the summer I will also do three talks on the New Evangelisation and we will finish up with Solemn Benediction and the Profession of Faith - knowing my people here, we will probably also have the solemn Salve, Te Deum, prayers for the Pope, and a procession of some sort.)
Another way of gaining the indulgence is by visiting papal basilicas, catacombs cathedrals or other holy sites designated by the Ordinary. One example of a site that the Ordinary might delegate is a minor basilica. Over lunch today between Missa Cantata and Vespers, I suggested light-heartedly that Blackfen should be designated since we were at least aspiring to be a minor basilica. In fact, our Ordinary will probably designate Aylesford which I am sure we could live with. This indulgence is "quotiescumque": in other words you can gain the indulgence each time you make such a visit, subject to the general law in force on indulgences that you can only gain one plenary indulgence per day.
The Ordinary can also designate particular days for a solemn Mass or office, adding the Creed, and the indulgence can then be gained by participating in that Mass or office.
May I remind you of my post Plenary indulgences not impossible which includes the general conditions set out by Pope Paul VI for gaining a plenary indulgence, and argues that they are not impossible to fulfil.